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There's a literal disturbance in the force that alters what physicists have long thought of as a characteristic of superconductivity, according to Rice University scientists.

Rice physicists Pengcheng Dai and Andriy Nevidomskyy and their colleagues used simulations and neutron scattering experiments that show the atomic structure of materials to reveal tiny distortions of the crystal lattice in a so-called iron pnictide compound of sodium, iron, nickel and arsenic.

These local distortions were observed among the otherwise symmetrical atomic order in the material at ultracold temperatures near the point of optimal superconductivity. They indicate researchers may have some wiggle room as they work to increase the temperature at which iron pnictides become superconductors.

The discovery reported this week in Nature Communications is the result of nearly two years of work by the Rice team and collaborators in the U.S., Germany and China.

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